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Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

BOTTOM LINE: Unsettling and dark

Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Young Adult
Publication Date: 2 January 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated—and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets—chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…”

My Thoughts:  Before I Let Go is a dark novel about one town that pretty much loses its collective mind. Fitting then that the town happens to be called Lost. What Corey finds upon her return to this remote Alaskan community is anything but normal and difficult to believe. Set during early spring in northern Alaska, when the sun returns but only briefly, the entire tone of the novel is disturbing as the answers Corey seeks prove to be dangerous to find.

It takes a lot to rattle me, but rattle me Before I Let Go did. The townspeople’s actions towards Corey are not just discomforting but downright sinister. It is difficult to envision an entire town ganging up on one of their own, making threats, and going out of their way to cause as many problems for the returnee as possible, and yet this is what happens to Corey. The unbelievability of it all as well as the sinister undertones make for damn uncomfortable reading.

Corey adds to your discomfiture by being a rather whiny character. She is completely unable to accept the truth until it is almost too late, long after you have already figured out what happened. Her unwillingness to see what is right in front of her is frustrating, especially as it causes her to make some poor choices. She also spends a lot of time contemplating her friendship and what it means to be a friend. We do get some good insight out of this, especially as it pertains to someone with a mental illness. However, the rest of the novel does not fit with this more internalized story. It is as if in Corey, the author tried to create a story within a story even though the two clash more than blend.

My overall problem with Before I Let Go is that I have no idea what it is meant to be. Is it a cautionary tale about friendship? Is it a thriller? Is it supposed to be realistic? Is it just supposed to be entertaining? Throwing me off even more is the introspection Corey does as she tries to learn more about what happened to Kyra. Does this make it a coming-of-age story? I just do not know, and this bothers me. I usually enjoy stories that cross multiple genres at once, but this leaves me perplexed. The two stories – why/how did Kyra die and how Corey is handling it – are not tightly woven together but appear as separate and distinct. Add in the creepy and highly unrealistic town transformation and you have a novel that is as confusing as it is disturbing.

The townspeople and their actions are so creepy and the story is so dark that I finished Before I Let Go with a sigh of relief and thankful to be able to put it behind me. This is not because the story is shocking. The answers, when you finally obtain them, are not much of a surprise even if they are as odd as you suspect they will be. I suspect my relief was more due to the fact that I was done with this weirdly unrealistic novel masking as contemporary fiction and could move on to more pleasant reading, which is not how you should ever want to feel finishing any story.

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